Friday, November 14, 2014

American Horror Story, Season 4, Episode 6: Bullseye

An ominous beginning – Elsa has her staff unearth a giant bullseye. She practices throwing knives at it while it spins and a dummy is tied to it – but she imagines various people from the show tied to it and ominously monologues about destroying people, even people she loves, to control her fate. I think this is foreshadowing and as subtle as Ethel’s accent.

Ethel’s there worrying away and Elsa has apparently told everyone that Bette and Dot have left the show on their own, not revealing that she sold them to the Motts. She also repeats her constant refrain about how grateful everyone should be to her – and we learn it’s her birthday week

At her birthday party, Elsa holds court over her subjects who all bring her presents from lingerie (from Paul) to Ma Patite in a box (from Eve). There’s a pall over everything though because people still have unanswered questions about Bette and Dot’s disappearance – Elsa loses her temper and demands everyone stop talking about them and that everyone will now have fun or she will throw knives at them!

Later she is in bed with Paul, saying what a good lover he is – but equally making it clear she doesn’t love him, she doesn’t want their affair known and expects him to hide when she has a “normal” suitor – his face is clear on his opinion of that. Ma Petite is also there – and Elsa treats her like a doll (and clearly feels no need to keep secrets from her).

Paul sneaks off to climb into the bedroom of Penny – the candystriper from way back at the beginning of the season. And he doesn’t want to have sex with her this time – he wants to get to know her so she can know him as a man. All the lovey-doveyness is interrupted by her father who is clearly controlling and abusive of his daughter

At the Mott’s creepy house, Dandy announces he liked Dora better than their current made. Gloria’s only comment “hindsight is 20:20”. Uh-huh. She’s also bought her son a huge stack of condoms as a present which is way beyond creepy. For more creepiness, she has bought him them because she’s worried that their terrible inbred ways coupled with Dot and Bette’s conjoined twin-ness will lead to more problems for the bloodline. But Dandy declares that he’s in love with them and would never “violate” them – Gloria is outraged at the idea he would be seen in public with them. Dandy protests that if they’re “freaks” so is he – and he feels normal with them. He declares he’s going to marry them

Bette is absolutely thrilled and overjoyed by Dandy’s attentions. Dot… considerably less so. But she does realise Dandy can afford the very expensive surgery to separate them; she dreams of losing Bette and being able to then have a relationship with Jimmy.

Paul goes shopping in town where the shop-keeper tries to get rid of him and Dandy also arrives. Paul talks about Dandy’s previous attempt to buy Dot and Bette and sees what Dandy’s bought for the twins… and Dandy has him kicked out of the shop.

Paul goes back to the show and tells Jimmy his suspicions – but Jimmy hits him for not being suitably grateful and fawning to Elsa. Paul hits back – Jimmy can think that way because he can pass, he just needs to wear gloves and no-one would know he was one of them. Paul has a much more realistic view of Elsa.

The twins leaving the show have also ruined Stanley and Esmeralda’s plans. Stanley suggests she lure out Jimmy so they can cut off his hands but, since she and Jimmy have become friendly, she refuses. Instead she plans to bring Ma Petite (we have a hallucination of preserving her in a jar – because Stanley has very vivid plans).

In her tent, Elsa smells perfume on Paul and they argue – where he calls her out on many things including the twins, telling her everyone thinks she’s done something nefarious. She demands the whole camp gather so she can rant and rave at them and what a wonderful saviour she’s been; she rants about the terrible places she found them all before bringing them to the show before complaining about the quality of her birthday gifts. She demands they prove they trust her – by one of them getting on the wheel so she can throw knives at them.

Jimmy volunteers but then Paul pushes forwards showing their both out of their ever loving minds. The first 2 knives work – but the third one gets him in the stomach. Elsa says it was an accident, her facial expressions say otherwise.

Back to our murderers and Esmeralda takes Ma Petite to the barn as planned in the murder vision. But she can’t go through with it (possibly because Ma Petite cranks the adorable up to 11).

Penny defies her father, telling him she’d rather die than stay with him – and goes out to the show to see Paul. Who is alive, still, in Elsa’s bed though she hasn’t called a doctor because he “betrayed” her.

Paul being stabbed has convinced Jimmy that Elsa may not be a super saint after all – though he has trouble convincing his mother. Esmeralda catches up with him and suggests they run off together – he agrees but first he has to “do something”. Then Esmerald is accosted by Stanley who is annoyed by the lack of murdering. He demands they go back to murdering Jimmy and orders her to deliver him to the killing barn.

Elsa and Ethel have a scene with Elsa playing up the whole idea of family and loyalty which Ethel kind of goes along with but even she has carefully voiced misgivings – and even threatens her if she ever finds out Elsa wronged Bette and Dot.

Back to the Mott household and Dot is still all pro-separation (even though the news reports a conjoined twin died in surgery) and very much about keeping her thoughts separate from her sister; she keeps her diary so she can have one place of privacy. Dandy tries to get Dot to tell him a secret in exchange for his (he lies about being the real person who killed Twisty) and she refuses. Dandy has a temper tantrum. Well there’s Bette’s dreams shattered.

Gloria finds Dandy all sad and mopey – he’s broken into Dot’s diary where Dot describes, in a scathing manner, her contempt for Dandy. Dandy has another tantrum, this one extremely melodramatic, before dramatically declaring his purpose is to “bring death” and carrying a large knife with him.

Sadly this is when Jimmy decides to ring the doorbell.

I’m really uncomfortable with how much hasn’t been said about Penny – we need a lot more explanation of the appalling scene earlier in the season where she was drugged and raped (despite Elsa’s denial, it looked a lot like rape and the drugging certainly adds to that likelihood) and blackmailed – and then this is the next we see of her? Paul also took part in that orgy and unless we have a lot more explanation for that it feels a lot like she’s getting cosy with a man who may have been part of her rape.

Everyone treats Ma Petite like a baby or small child which is discomforting because Jyoti Amge is 20 years old. It’s easy to imagine this would be a common and aggravating thing that any Little Person has to deal with, but especially a woman who is this small. Especially since the show has made some effort, at least, to present the full humanity of many of the characters – including Paul, Suzi (who are actually disabled) and, of course, Ethel, Jimmy and even (belatedly and to a lesser degree) Desiree. One of the few things this show has actually made a conscious effort to get right (to varying degrees of success – Pepper, for example, and Meep were never included in this) is to present the performers of the show as people who are unfairly othered for their different bodies. To present them as people with unconventional bodies, but people first and foremost – and then into this we have Ma Petite who is a baby even to the other performers. Contrast this to Paul who is treated appallingly by Elsa and it’s cast as appalling – and he even goes on to another lover expressly to assert his humanity. But where’s the counter of Ma Petite’s humanity to the endless babying by Elsa? Her life is even saved by the fact she’s just too darned cute to murder.

But all that said about humanising Paul – and this was an excellent episode for him – is this just a way of creating pathos for when he dies? He’s injured but not dead – but it’s not uncommon on TV to take background characters, give them an episode of dialogue and growth just before they’re killed off to try and wring some attempt of emotional impact out of their death. Is this what is happening here?

Elsa is a good example of one common problem with both disability and any marginalisation: the person who considers themselves a wonderful, good person for recognising basic humanity. She can’t understand why everyone isn’t completely loyal to her for not treating them totally abysmally (as opposed to her merely treating them poorly) and is outraged that she isn’t treated as a saviour for not loathing them. It’s not an unusual form of entitlement, when people consider themselves, wonderful, kind and, yes, saviours for acknowledging basic humanity and then expect gratitude